Brooklyn, NY: Brooklyn Children’s Museum will exhibit The Free Portrait Project: Crown Heights, 200 oil-painted portraits and oral histories of Crown Heights residents from all walks of life, painted in one year. The opening reception will take place on Sunday, September 25 from 5:00 to 7:00 pm, and will be free and open to the public. The exhibit opening will be feted by a parade starting at 4:00 pm at the Bedford Union Armory and culminate at Brooklyn Children’s Museum with the 200 local residents depicted in the portraits with their families and representatives from local offices.
“Brooklyn Children’s Museum is thrilled to be hosting the Free Portrait Project, highlighting the contributions of so many extraordinary members of our community,” says Stephanie Wilchfort, President & CEO of Brooklyn Children’s Museum. “This project represents the narratives of 200 of our neighbours that together reflect the fabric of our beloved Crown Heights.”
About The Free Portrait Project: Crown Heights: In one year, Brooklyn-based Artist/Founder Rusty Zimmerman crowdfunded to paint 200 oil portraits from life, in partnership with the Brooklyn Historical Society and the Weeksville Heritage Center. Each portrait was painted in four hours, while a microphone recorded the entire sitting between the artist and each person who was painted, unwittingly creating an oral history of the neighbourhood. Exhibitions of the portraits ran concurrently at Brooklyn Children’s Museum and ten other local venues, storefronts to synagogues, with free public receptions for all the communities of Crown Heights to promote dialogue through story sharing and acts of service assigned to each participant. The project will culminate in the parade to the final exhibition of all 200 portraits and recorded stories of a neighborhood in transition. Thereafter, the paintings will belong to the people who sat for them. A live crowdfunding campaign hopes to raise the required $13,000 to produce the exhibition of portraits and oral histories. You can support the project here.
Artist Statement, Rusty Zimmerman: This work was born from a selfish place. I wanted to be a better painter, to improve by painting portraits from life every day. Oil-painted portraiture is historically a fancy thing for fancy people, predominantly old, dead, white men. Most folks never think to commission one, and it never sat well with me to make something that’s not for everyone. So what if I gave this to everyone? But how will I make a living? “You should crowdfund it. You should document a community,” said a friend. But could I sustain that for, say, two months? “You could do this for a year. You just have to make it compelling.” But who to document? “Don’t you live in Crown Heights? Isn’t Crown Heights the most rapidly changing-est, rent-rising-est neighborhood in New York City?” So it is. And you know what else? We’re celebrated for the diversity of cultures— Hasidic, West-Indian, a flood of recent arrivals— all more or less peacefully co-existing, but we don’t interact and say hello to one another as well as we could. I’d like to change that.
So I walked into doorways I might otherwise never have. First Baptist Church, Chabad HQ at 770 Eastern Parkway. Mosques, senior centers, town hall meetings. Community Boards, public housing, an all-black biker bar. “Hi, my name is Rusty Zimmerman. I’m the portrait painter to Governor Cuomo, and I’m about to give 200 portraits to people here in the neighbourhood. All are welcome to apply. No one is turned away for a lack of funds. You can sign up online, and I’ve got some flyers on the back table.” Some leapt at the chance. Others approached curiously. Some were skeptical until their friend got one. Two people refused to participate. But my calendar filled up. I’m going to meet some really interesting people with amazing stories to tell. I should set up a microphone. I should just record them all. The more folks I met, the more I want to introduce everyone. Because everyone wants to say hello. Do you know how I know? I asked: What would you like to say to the entire neighborhood, all 125,000 people in Crown Heights? It was incredible— all 200 people said the same thing: “we should say ‘hi’ to each other more, and we should get to know our neighbours, and support each other, because at the end of the day, we’re all one people.”
About Rusty Zimmerman
Portrait and poster artist to Governor Andrew Cuomo, Zimmerman has lectured at Wellesley College and will lecture at Harvard in the Fall. Zimmerman lives and works in Crown Heights.
About Brooklyn Children’s Museum
A pioneer in education, Brooklyn Children’s Museum was the first museum created expressly for children when it was founded in 1899. Its success has sparked the creation of 300 children’s museums around the world. With award-winning, hands-on exhibits and innovative use of its collections, the Museum engages children from preschool to high school in learning adventures. It is the only children’s museum in New York City, and one of few in the country, to be accredited by the American Association of Museums.
Twitter, Instagram, Facebook: @wearecrownheights
The Free Portrait Project: Crown Heights is a fiscally-sponsored project of the Brooklyn Arts Council